Attorney Steven Andrews found himself in a legal scuffle with the governor’s office in 2012. Andrews was based out of a large home, renovated into office space, and located near the governor’s mansion. The governor’s office was looking for new space to work out of, and elected to purchase the building Andrews was based out of. Andrews contested the purchase, citing his still-current lease for his office space.
Through Andrews’ investigation of the real estate deal, he discovered that the governor’s office had set up a number of private email accounts to communicate through, which would not be accessible via standard internal tracking and public records requests. Under the state’s Sunshine Laws, of course, this was not considered legal, and Andrews took the governor’s office to court over their private email accounts; in the accounts, they had specifically discussed details of the very deal that was used to purchase the office space out from under Andrews.
Eventually, Andrews agreed to a large settlement after internet giant Google was ordered to turn over the contents of the email accounts in question. The case alone cost several hundred thousand dollars to prosecute, but the road didn’t end there. In fact, it didn’t start there either: The governor had faced another public records infringement case just a couple of months earlier when attorney Matthew Wiedner sued the governor’s office over its secret communications regarding the firing of Florida’s Law Enforcement Commissioner a year ago. Combined, the two cases were estimated to have cost over $1 million. Additional outrage was leveled at the fact that no Florida governor had been sued over sunshine law violations going back over 40 years; now, Governor Rick Scott has been sued twice in the same year for similar offenses.
Interestingly enough, Andrews himself said in a public statement that he did not blame malicious or sinister intent as the driving force behind the violations, stating that Scott had gotten bad information from aides when he inquired as to the extent of the sunshine laws and what they covered. Specifically, he wasn’t aware that using a private, unmonitored email provider would be a violation of state public record laws. Whether one believes this or not, it has certainly landed the governor and some of his officials in hot water – and a lot of unpaid legal burden.
Unfortunately, people are most upset about the fact that, ultimately, the million dollar legal costs will most likely be covered by taxpayer money. There’s understandable outrage at this, considering the fact that taxpayers will end up footing the bill that’s a direct result of their public servant misusing public funds and officers in the place.
Now, taxpayers are calling for the governor to personally front the case costs so that the burden doesn’t fall on them for his office’s mistake. Scott, a former hospital executive, is wealthy and spent nearly $70 million of his own money during his campaign for governor.